EDITORIAL: A study on women’s marriage rights makes disturbing though unsurprising revelations about the status of women in this society.

Misogyny is writ large on the results of this study conducted by two NGOs, Centre for Human Rights and Musawi, in collaboration with the National Commission for Human Rights in two Punjab districts, Lahore and Pakpattan.

It is based on a review of 1,100 Nikahnamas (marriage certificates) and interviews with 105 nikah registrars (invariably clerics).

Its key findings show that 86 percent of nikah registrars in Lahore believed the bride is not competent enough to negotiate terms of her nikahnama (marriage certificate), 85 percent were of the view that delegating the right of divorce to women would increase the divorce rate, while 92 percent said the wife’s right to maintenance was subject to obedience to her husband.

Furthermore, notes the survey report, 67 percent of the respondents believed women’s right to work should depend on husbands’ permission, and according to 26 percent consent of the guardian is more important than the bride’s free will. Expectedly, the respondents in Pakpattan had even more retrogressive views about women.

Every one of these findings is reflective of gender stereotypes conditioned by a patriarchal system. The nikahnama basically is a nuptial agreement between the bride and the groom, yet even well-educated wives-to-be seldom have a say in it. All details are decided by male family members presuming, like the men interviewed, that they are incapable of determining what is good for them.

The nikahnama column about the women’s right of divorce is usually crossed out or left blank not just because it is regarded as inauspicious, more so because divorce is generally seen as social stigma for women. This goes on despite the fact that the Punjab Muslim Family Law (Amendment) Act, 2015 prohibits both crossing out and leaving blank that column.

Consequently, countless women are forced to live with their abusive partners rather than opt out. The idea that a wife’s right to maintenance or work should be contingent on her husband’s permission arises from a chauvinistic desire to control women, which needs to be pushed back hard.

Those who believe — there are many such misguided people — that a guardian’s nod is more important than the bride’s forget that the religion ordains that consent of the bride and groom be obtained by asking them three times — to ensure consent — in the presence of two witnesses if they accept one another as marriage partners.

If the guardian can do that on the woman’s behalf why ask her? Islam has specified that procedural detail precisely to prevent forced marriages.

As regards the most important right of divorce, the study calls for effective implementation of the law that binds nikah registrars to have the relevant column filled. A better solution would be to delete this column for the simple but powerful reason that Islam entitles women to that right.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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